Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Defenders of Peace" (Ep. 1.14)

--When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose a side.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

I suppose I'll start with the fact that George Takei does a bit of voice acting in this episode. It's too bad it's just a one-shot performance, because he has a distinctive voice that they really could have built a character around.

The previous episode, "Jedi Crash," poses the question, "Does fighting for peace justify fighting?" You should go back and read my review for that discussion. This episode carries that question one step further: If an aggressor is going to attack and kill you despite your declaration of non-violence, at what point do you defend yourself?

The show does not handle this question as well as it did the previous question, because, I suppose, of our American sensibilities, the writers couldn't help but provide an answer to that question. I think providing answers to questions like these is pretty much always a mistake.

So here's the scenario (and the rest of this will be all kinds of spoilery):
The Separatists invade the planet of the peaceful people that helped Anakin and his crashed team in the previous episode. The invasion has nothing to do with the Jedi, but the head of the village wants the Jedi out so as not to provoke the Separatists. He believes that he declares their peaceful intentions that the Separatists will leave them alone. However, the Separatists have come to test a new weapon against the peaceful colony, a weapon which will be the genocide of the people if it works.

Despite the fact that the Separatists lead an unprovoked attack against the village wherein they declare that the village is now under their control, the leader of the village insists upon not fighting back. He believes that they should all be willing to die rather than to fight. He also insists that the Jedi do not come to their aid, because it would be better to die than to have conflict and violence in an effort to protect them.

And this is where it falls apart when dealing with the question: not everyone in the village agrees with the leader. Rather than reducing this question to a personal decision, they try to make it one person's choice for a whole body of people. And, of course, the Jedi come to the aid of the village anyway, because Anakin is not willing to allow genocide to take place just to assuage the the beliefs of the leader of the village.

The whole thing ends with some of the village choosing to fight and, of course, the Separatists are defeated... And the leader comes to the Jedi and thanks them for their help. Everyone is happy. It removes the weight of the question completely.

It's not a bad episode, but it was bad handling of a difficult philosophical question.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Parcivillian -- Part 2 (a local color post)

Elliot Behling, Delek Miller, and Stav Redlich

So... Parcivillian.

It's really difficult to do something like make introductions in the middle of any kind of live performance. After I asked the bassist, Delek Miller, about doing an interview, about which he was very excited, he rounded up the other guys so that we could figure out when. We did manage to do that, but I didn't really get their names at the time, except for Delek's, because he put it in my phone. All of that to say that proper introductions did not get made until the following Monday when we met for coffee at my favorite cafe, Flying Goat. [Seriously, I love Flying Goat and am thinking about doing a piece about them at some point. They have this spicy mocha thing which is the veritable bomb.]

The first thing to note, and this really surprised me, is that these guys are, and there's no other way to say it, young. Delek and Elliot just graduated from high school, are both 18, and are heading off to separate colleges. Stav, at 17, is still in high school. Based on the quality of their music and the fact that they were performing original material, I had expected them to be older. It makes them, as a group, all the more impressive. Also, I suppose technically, the band is actually only Delek and Stav. Elliot plays the violin in some of the songs, but he's not fully integrated as part of the band despite the fact that Delek and Elliot are best friends and have know each other for eight years or so. It's no coincidence that their friendship began with music and has been the center of it all along.

Actually, nearly everything about this group is surprising to me. Considering how young they are, you have to wonder (or, at least, I did) how long they've been "together." When did the band start? Now, see, considering how good they are, I expected the answer to be something like, "Oh, we've been doing this since we were freshmen," or something like that, but, no, they've only been playing together as a band (meaning the length of time since Stav and Delek started doing all of this) about a year. A year!

Which might not be so surprising just for the ability to play songs together, but they've been together for only a year, and they have all this original material. Good original material. Actually, good is an understatement. At any rate, I had to ask about that:

Me: How did y'all get started on doing original material so early? ...Y'all are right out the gate original stuff, and I'm really curious about that.

Stav: I started off in fifth grade kind of playing covers, doing the thing, all the pop kind of covers, and, then, comes about eighth grade and you hit puberty [everyone chimed in knowingly at this point and there were comments about girls (when I say "everyone," I include myself)], so I said I don't want to play just everyone else's stuff. I don't want to cover all the time, so I started to write songs. I had a bunch of ones I think now are just the cheesiest things ever [Me: It happens.], but you go through the cycle, and I started finding ones that I really liked. When we all started to play together I had two or three songs already written that we still play today. I brought them to the band and they liked them and, from then on, we started writing together. Delek would bring me a bass line, or a guitar line for that matter because he plays both, and I'd be, like, "cool," and then I'd come up with the melody, put some lyrics in there and, then, Elliot does his thing, so it all comes together.

Delek: For playing together and writing original stuff, we just started playing and, then, I knew that [Stav] wrote songs and he kind of was a little...

Stav: ...shy about it...

Delek: ...shy about just going for it, so I said, "Just do something." So we did one song just like that. I told him to just moan or just mumble, and it just happened. Personally, we've all just liked his original stuff. Covers are really fun, too, but I like doing the original thing. I like the creative process. And I think they share that, too.

The conversation moved from there to musical influences, which I would like to cover here, but I'm going to pass over as it would just end up being a list of bands and musicians that I mostly can't offer an commentary about. At some point, I might revisit the subject with them in a way that will allow me to turn it into a more interesting subject, because there are a people on the list that stand out even to me.

Eventually, we got to this:

Me: Where do you see yourselves going? Do you have any kind of concrete plans? Do you have any kind of vision? What do you want to see happen, both individually and as a group? Where do you see your music going? What do you want to do?

Stav: I want to play music for my career. I don't want to do anything else.

Me: Well, you've got a good start. Not many people your age are doing what you're doing.

Stav: As far as where I want to go, I am going to obviously have a plan B. Producing interests me. Psychology interests me. So I'm going to go to school. I'm going to get a major in something. But, as far as band and music goes, I'm just going to keep writing because I love to be able to express that part of myself and share it with whoever wants to listen. And just keep playing music until something happens or, if nothing happens, still keep playing music. That's my plan. I don't have an expectations. I'm not, like, "Oh, my God, if this doesn't work out, I'm going to kill myself." It's very much like "what happens happens," and if nothing happens, I'm going to keep playing music. As far as playing with these guys, it starts off with touring and playing live, recording when we can, spreading the word, letting as many people know as we can about our music, where we're playing, all that kind of stuff. As far as long term, I want to do this. I found a group. I've never played with anyone that, kind of, gets me as much musically as much as Delek does. We have a good sense of the genre we want to play and it fits and it works. We write really well together, and we play really well together. Same with Elliot. Elliot brings a whole, really cool, unique aspect to the group that I think is great to have. To be honest, some songs don't need violin, but a good chunk of them do, so it's good to have that option. [Delek and Elliot] just wrote a song together, recently, and brought it to me...

Delek: Instrumental...

Stav: Instrumental, verse, chorus kind of deal, but, like, immediately, I was able to find a melody and some lyrics...

Delek: And that's on the spot. Like five minutes.

Stav: That's the kind of stuff I want to be doing all the time. And I don't care if I'm in a studio from 5:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night. I want to do this... As far as I'm concerned, the music is all that matters. Bringing joy to other people. As long as other people like it and I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I'll never write or play music I don't enjoy. I'm solely in it for the music. That's what I've found about Delek, too; he's willing to make sacrifices for the sound, no matter if he has to step back a little bit, hold out boring notes on his bass, he knows when to bring stuff in and when to pull stuff out. It doesn't matter who is in the background or who is in the foreground; it's all about the music, and that's what I love about playing with these guys.

Delek: It's almost like the music is a separate... It's like we're a band, and there's the music. And we're playing the music, but it's a separate... It's its own entity the way we approach it.

Where I want to go? I want to keep playing with them. We've found something that not very many people get to find. It's one of those things to know when you've found something really good. Like someone who really gets what you're doing, and you really get what they're doing, and the approach is really harmonious. Also, I really like producing. I mean, I want to produce. Even if I'm in a band, I'll still produce on the side. If the band doesn't happen, then I want to produce as a career. But I want music... I need to be in music.

Elliot: I've wanted to play violin since I was two years old, and I don't mean that at all as something to brag about. I started at five so, basically, it's just always been a part of me. That will never stop; I will always continue playing.

I'm going to cut this post off at this point, mostly, because it's long enough. Next post will deal with the name of the band and how it relates to the other big question I asked them. And, just to be clear, Elliot did talk during the interview, but, since I'm not just transcribing it, I've cut out most of the side comments to keep the essential information concise. Which sounds like he didn't say anything essential, but that's not true, either. Often his comments were agreeing with someone else or expanding on something someone else said, but I can't include everything. That's why there will be another post. And, actually, another one after that.

For now, I'm going to leave you with one of their songs. This one is probably my favorite one. Just follow the link: "Left Behind"

Friday, August 28, 2015

Metal Art: part 3 (a local color post)

Yeah, you can go back to the previous two Mondays if you missed those posts.

That's all I have for now. There are a few more I know of that I haven't gotten pictures of yet, but they really are scattered around, so I'm sure there are many I haven't found.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Michael Franti (a local color post)

My wife and I went to see Michael Franti & Spearhead recently. He's kind of a big deal around here since he's local. Well, localish. From  the Bay area, at any rate. However, even being a big name around here doesn't translate into a huge concert like with some big, popular group or artist. The concert was smallish and cozy and tons of fun, but I am wondering how many of you have heard of him.

Oh, wait! I bet you'll recognize this song:

Or, maybe, this one:

Those are excellent songs, right? And you've probably heard of one of those, because they've been featured in all kinds of movies and TV shows. In fact, the first time I heard "The Sound of Sunshine" was in a movie. Or a TV show. I don't remember. I do remember needing to look it up, though, and finding out my wife was already familiar with Franti. Or something. It's been a while.

Let me make something clear: This is almost the only mainstream concert I've ever been to. I would actually say it's my first, but my wife insists that the Deana Carter concert we went to back in '97 counts as mainstream, so I guess this is my second. This is not to say that I haven't been to a lot of concerts, because I have; it's just that they've all been Christian concerts. It's a different experience for me to go to something like the Franti concert.

But, man, it was so much fun! Despite the woman who spilled her drink on my wife, and the old white asshole dude who was dancing all over people so that everyone had to move away from him and allow him, like, a 4' radius so that he wasn't stepping on people (I think he's the reason the woman spilled her drink on my wife), and the other old white asshole dude who kept backing into my wife despite the fact that we kept moving back to get away from him (by the end of the concert, he had almost 6' feet of space in front of him because he just kept backing into us (seriously, what the heck? How much space do you need?). Despite all of that, and the overwhelming smell of weed, it was an awesome concert and a great performance.

Franti is a musician I can really admire for more than just his skill at music. His belief in equality for people strongly parallels my own, and many, many of his songs have to do with that. As my wife says, he splits his music between love songs (like the two above) and political activism songs, and all of them are good to great. And most of his music is just fun. It's fun, and it says something, which is kind of rare.

So... I guess what I'm saying here is that, if you've never listened to Franti, you should give Franti a listen. He has some great music. If you ever get the chance to see him in concert, you should definitely do that! He was great. He brought kids up on stage to sing with him at multiple points during the concert, and that was really cool. He walked down among the crowd several times, which was COOL. He just put on a good show with great music. How can you say no to that?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Jedi Crash" (Ep. 1.13)

-- Greed and fear of loss are the roots that lead to the tree of evil.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

This episode opens with one of those huge, spectacular battle sequences. We don't get those all the time in Clone Wars because, I'm assuming, of the time and expense in producing them, which, I know, sounds weird for animation (it's just coloring, right?) but is true nonetheless. And I do understand that they're "just animated" (but, after all, that's what CGI is, too, and this stuff is basically the same), but they're still spectacular.

This is another episode which features on a fan favorite Jedi from the movies: Aayla Secura. I think when you look at the character, you can easily identify why she's such a favorite. heh

This is an interesting episode in that Anakin and Ahsoka are coming to Secura's aid, but Anakin is badly wounded and it's Secura and Ahsoka who have to rescue him. Amidst many, many complications. Including incorrect hyperspace coordinates which, as Han Solo told us, can lead to flying right through a star. Um, yikes! Because that's right where they're headed.

This episode centers on a philosophical question, which the series does from time to time:
Does fighting for peace justify fighting? As one of the characters says, "It takes two to fight." It is a legitimate question with no good answers. After all, Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek." It may be something that's easier done by an individual rather than by a whole society, though, because how can you choose to let an aggressor subjugate or enslave a group of people unopposed? The show doesn't try to answer the question; it merely poses the conflict between the two ways.

I think that's the mark of a good show, though: It poses the questions and doesn't try to tell you how to think about it, just that you ought to think about it. So, yeah, what if someone did a throw a war and one side just didn't show up? Is that even a possible thing? Maybe not, but maybe it could be.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Parcivillian -- Part 1 (a local color post)

Recently, my wife and I went to an open mic night at a local-ish tavern-ish place. This is not a thing that is part of our normal routine. It is so far outside of our normal routine, in fact, that it isn't something we'd ever done before. But it had been a rough week, and I was looking for something fun we could do for dinner that night, something cheap we could do for dinner that night, and a free open mic night seemed like a good option. I mean, the worst that could happen would be that all the participants would suck, but even that can be entertaining (like the ukulele who sang an original song that heavily featured pickles and olives), and, you know, there was always the possibility of some real gems.

We were late.

We had some business to take care of before we could head to the place, business that took longer than we'd anticipated. So, rather than get there early enough to eat before the open mic event started, we got there in time for the event to start, but we were both pretty ravenous by that point, so we got a table rather than going into the venue. Fortunately, it wasn't far from the big open doors to the building the event was in, so we could hear what was going on. And, well, they started late, too.

Eventually, we finished eating, and went down to the open mic thing. Except that I had to take our left over food out to the car, so she went on in without me. (Where, amusingly, she immediately began to get hit on by an older gentleman who kept flirting with her even after I got back, almost as if I wasn't even standing there. (Yes, my wife is a "hottie."))

At this point, I need to explain something:
My wife and I have very different approaches to music. Very frequently, songs will grab me the first time I hear them. For instance, "With Or Without Me" was instantaneous. I didn't even hear the whole song or hear it well. It came on the radio that was playing in the background, and it caught my ear, and I did that whole shushing thing to everyone around me so that I could hear the song. It was, at the time, the best song I'd ever heard. I knew it right away.

My wife never has that reaction to music. She's someone who has to grow into loving a song. Usually, it takes her four or five times of hearing something before she even begins to like it. And she's the musical one! It can be disappointing for me when I bring her some new song I've just heard that I think is great and she gives it a shrug and a "It's okay." Which is what I expect, but, still.

So... I had to take food out to the car. When I got back, the band that was playing was in the middle of their final song and, as soon as I walked up to my wife, she grabbed my arm and said, "I really like this song." That got my attention. Of course, my first thought was that she must have heard it somewhere before, because, you know, she wouldn't like it if it was the first time she'd heard it. But we didn't know what song it was.

After the band was finished, I sort of snuck up on one of them, the bass player, and asked him about it. Guess what. It was an original song! So, yeah, it grabbed my wife the first time she heard it (and I liked what I heard of it, too, even if I didn't hear the whole thing), and I was even more impressed.

Which brings me to the punch line, so to speak:
I tracked the bass player down again and asked him if they'd, Parcivillian, would like to get featured on my blog. It was an enthusiastic "yes!" This is not that feature. This is just the story leading to the feature. In the mean time, though, please hop over to their facebook page. Right there at the top is a video of the song my wife likes so much. It's called "One Kiss."

Next week, I'll be back with more about this new band.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Dagon" (a book review post)

Having already read "Call of Cthulhu," it's easy to see that this story, "Dagon," is an earlier iteration of Lovecraft's most famous story. In many ways, "Dagon" reads as an early draft, just an early draft that ended up published. Clearly, this idea of a massive body of land rising from the depths of the ocean floor was not one Lovecraft could get out of his mind.

Even with the similarities, there are things about this earlier story that I think work better. "Dagon" is about a man lost at sea. He's drifting alone in a little boat in the middle of the ocean and certain that he's going to die. Upon waking one day, he finds that his boat is no longer drifting but has struck land. Except that it hasn't "struck" land, because, when he sits up and looks around, he finds that the land has risen up under him and his boat is stranded, land bound.

Lovecraft's description of the risen continent is exquisitely detailed with sensory information. The smell of rotting fish and other sea... things... that are equally stranded upon the new rocky plain. The lack of anything to block out the sun. The desolate waste of the sea floor suddenly exposed to light. And our lone man tramping across it to find out if there's any way off.

Of course, in true Lovecraft style, all of this is told in flashback style to explain why the man feels as if his death is imminent. And this is the part of the story that doesn't work for me. While the part on the island is interesting in its landscape and the thing that happens, once he escapes, there is no reason given within the story that there should be anything to worry about after.

I understand that the tension in the story is the man's fear about dying because of what he saw, but doesn't ring true. Especially so considering what happens at the very end. How does it relate to the rest of the story?

It's an interesting story, and the part with the risen continent is well worth the read, but I wasn't impressed with the story overall. I think there could have been much more tension without it being done as a flashback.